NARRATOR: "It's been four months since my heart attack. In that whole time, I can probably count the times I've left this hospital room unsupervised on one hand. Four months is a pretty long time when you're left alone with your thoughts. So, I've had plenty of time to come to terms with my situation."
NARRATOR: "Arrhythmia. A strange word. A foreign, alien one. One that you don't want to be in the same room with. A rare condition. It causes the heart to act erratically and occasionally beat way too fast. It can be fatal. Apparently, I've had it for a long time. They said it was a miracle that I was able to go on so long without anything happening. Is that really a miracle? I guess it was supposed to make me feel better, more appreciative of my life. It really didn't do anything to cheer me up. My parents, I think, were hit harder by the news than I was. They practically had two hemorrhages apiece. I had already had a full day by then to digest everything. To them, it was all fresh. They were even willing to sell our house in order to pay for a cure."
NARRATOR: "Of course there isn't a cure. Because of the late discovery of this... condition, I've had to stay at the hospital, to recuperate from the treatments. When I was first admitted, it felt as if I was missed... For about a week, my room in the ward was full of flowers, balloons and cards. But, the visitors soon dwindled and all the get-well gifts began trickling down to nothing shortly after. I realized that the only reason I had gotten so many cards and flowers was because sending me their sympathy had been turned into a class project. Maybe some people were genuinely concerned, but I doubt it. Even in the beginning, I barely had visitors. By the end of the first month, only my parents came by on a regular basis. Iwanako was the last to stop visiting. After six weeks, I never saw her again. We never had that much to talk about when she visited, anyway. We didn't touch the subject that was between us on that snowy day ever again."
NARRATOR: "The hospital? It's not really a place I'd like to live in. The doctors and nurses feel so impersonal and faceless. I guess it's because they are in a hurry and they have a million other patients waiting for them, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. For the first month or so, I asked the head cardiologist every time I saw him for a rough estimate of when I'd be able to leave. He never answered anything in a straightforward way, but told me to wait and see if the treatment and surgeries worked. So, I idly observed the scar that those surgeries had left on my chest slowly change its appearance over time, thinking of it as some kind of an omen. I still ask the head cardiologist about leaving, but my expectations are low enough now that I'm not disappointed any more when I don't get a reply. The way he shuffles around the answer shows that there is at least some hope."
NARRATOR: "At some point I stopped watching TV. I don't know why, I just did. Maybe it was the wrong kind of escapism for my situation. I started reading instead. There was a small "library" at the hospital, although it was more like a storeroom for books. I began working my way through it, one small stack at a time. After consuming them, I would go back for more. I found that I liked reading and I think I even became a bit addicted. I started feeling naked without a book in my hands. But I loved the stories. That was what my life was like. The days became increasingly harder to distinguish from each other, differing only by the book I was reading and the weather outside. It felt like time blurred into some kind of gooey mess I was trapped inside, instead of moving within. A week could go by without me really noticing it. Sometimes, I'd pause in realization that I didn't know what day of the week it was. But other times, all the things that surrounded me would painfully crash into my consciousness, through the barrier of nonchalance I had set up for myself. The pages of my book would start to feel sharp and burning hot and the heaviness in my chest would become so hard to bear that I had to put the book aside and just lay down for a while, looking at the ceiling as if I was going to cry. But that happened only rarely. And I couldn't even cry."
NARRATOR: "Today, the doctor comes in and gives me a smile. He seems excited, but not very. It's like he is trying to make an effort to be happy on my behalf. My parents are here. It's been a few days since I've last seen them. Both of them are even sort of dressed up. Is this supposed to be some kind of special occasion? It's not a party. There is this ritual the head cardiologist has. He takes his time, sorting his papers, then setting them aside as if to make a point of the pointlessness of what he just did. There he casually sits down on the edge of the bed next to mine. He looks me in the eyes for a moment."
DOCTOR: "Hello, Hisao. How are you today?"
NARRATOR: "I don't answer him but I smile a little, back at him."
DOCTOR: "I believe that you can go home; your heart is stronger now, and with some precautions, you should be fine. We have all your medication sorted out. I'll give your father the prescription."
NARRATOR: "The doctor hands a sheet of paper to my dad, whose expression turns wooden as he reads it quickly."
DAD: "So many..."
NARRATOR: "I take it from his hand and take a look myself, feeling numb. How am I supposed to react to this? The absurdly long list of medications staring back at me from the paper seems insurmountable. They all blend together in a sea of letters. This is insane. Side effects, adverse effects, contraindications and dosages are listed line after line with cold precision. I try to read them, but it's so futile. I can't understand any of it. Attempting to only makes me feel sicker. All this... for the rest of my life, every day?"
DOCTOR: "I'm afraid that is the best we can do at this point. However, new medications are always being developed, so I wouldn't be surprised to see that list fade over the years."
NARRATOR: "Years... What kind of confidence booster is that I'd have felt better if he hadn't said anything at all..."
DOCTOR: "Also, I've spoken with your parents and we believe that it would be best if you don't return to your old school."
DAD: "Please, calm down, Hisao. Listen to what the doctor has to say..."
NARRATOR: "Calm down? The way he says it tells me he knew full well that I wouldn't like it. Am I going to be home schooled? Whatever of my concern shows, it's ignored."
DOCTOR: "We all understand that your education is paramount; however, I don't think that it's wise for you to be without supervision. At least not until we're sure that your medication is suitable. So, I've spoken to your parents about a transfer. It's a school called Yamaku Academy that specializes in dealing with disabled students."
NARRATOR: "Disabled? What? Am I..."
DOCTOR: "It has a 24-hour nursing staff and it's only a few minutes from a highly regarded general hospital. The majority of students live on the campus. Think of it as a boarding school of sorts. It's designed to give students a degree of independence, while keeping help nearby."
NARRATOR: "Independence? It's a school for disabled kids. Don't try to disguise that fact. If it was really that "free," there wouldn't be a 24-hour nursing staff, and you wouldn't make a hospital being nearby a selling point."
DAD: "Of course, that's only if you want to go. But... your mother and I aren't really able to home school you. We went out there and had a look a couple of weeks back; I think you'd like it."
NARRATOR: "It looks like I really don't have a choice."
DOCTOR: "Compared to other heart problems, people with your condition usually tend to live long lives. You'll need a job one day and this is a good opportunity to continue your education."
NARRATOR: "This isn't an opportunity, don't call it an opportunity. Don't call it a goddamned opportunity."
DOCTOR: "Well, you should be excited at the chance to go back to school. I remember you wanted to return to school, and while it's not the same one..."
NARRATOR: "A special school. That's... An insult. That is what I want to say. It's a step down."
DAD: "It's not what you think. All of the students there are pretty active, in their own sort of way. It's geared towards students that can still get around and learn, but just need a little help... in one way or another."
DOCTOR: "Your father's right. And many of the graduates of the school have gone on to do amazing things. A person doesn't have to be held back by their disability. One of my colleagues in another hospital is a graduate."
NARRATOR: "I don't care. A person doesn't have to be held back by their disability? That's what a disability is. I really hate that something so important was decided for me. But what can I do about it? A "normal" life is out of the question now. It's funny, I had always thought my life was actually kind of boring, but now I miss it."
NARRATOR: "I want to protest. I want to blame this lack of reaction on shock, or fatigue. I could easily yell out something now - something about how I can go back to school anyway. But, no. I don't say anything. The fact is that I know now it's futile. I look around the room, feeling very tired of all this. The hospital, doctors, my condition, everything. I don't see anything that would make me feel any different. There really isn't a choice. I know this, but the thought of going to a disabled school... what are those even like? As much as I try to put a positive spin on this, it's very difficult. But let me try."
NARRATOR: "A clean slate isn't a bad thing. That is all I can think of to get me through this. At least I still have something; even if it's a "special school," it's something. It's a fresh start, and my life isn't over. It would be a mistake to just resign myself to thinking that. At the very least, I'll try to see what my new life will look like."
Next Scene: Gateway Effect